The Spokesman-Review

Mitsubishi i-Miev: Future mode, present tense

Shaped a bit like an egg with headlights, the i-MIEV is long on headroom and front-seat legroom.

Mitsubishi’s i-MIEV electric vehicle rolled silently into my driveway just in time for Earth Day.

The iMIEV is one three mainstream pure-electric vehicles widely available to U.S. buyers. Collectively, they’re laying the groundwork for a post-petroleum future. More immediately, they offer owners an escape from gas-pump tyranny — and the prospect of three-cent-a-mile operating costs.

But these would-be game-changers are not inexpensive and, as long as petroleum is plentiful and gas prices stable, prospective owners face a tricky cost-benefits analysis.

Still, say you’re sufficiently concerned about the planet’s health (setting aside for the moment the environmental costs of making electricity) to hop aboard the green train, what might you expect of the experience?

The i-MIEV (increasingly, it’s coming to be known by the shorthand “i”), is a four-passenger subcompact, with a legitimate back seat and enough cargo capacity to accommodate the weekly grocery shopping.

Shaped a bit like an egg with headlights, the i ($29,975, less a $7,500 federal tax rebate) is long on headroom and front-seat legroom. Rear-seat legroom is adequate. Seats are reasonably comfortable — comfortable enough, certainly, for the brief trips that best suit the i.

Austerity is the driving force here. The driver’s seat is heated and manually height-adjustable, but the passenger seat is not. The steering column neither tilts nor telescopes and incidental cabin storage is more a conceit than a reality. Hard plastics wrap the dash and door panels.

Instruments include a digital speedometer, battery state-of-charge meter, and remaining-range estimator. Safety gear includes front airbags, curtain airbags that protect front- and rear-seat passengers and an electronic stability system with traction control.

At 62 miles per charge, with a fudge factor of up to 85 miles under ideal conditions, the i has the shortest range of the available mainstream EVs. Actual mileage depends on a variety of factors, including topography (hills can be deadly), driving habits and the weather (cold temperatures tax the batteries and any use of the climate control system — for heating or cooling — depletes the charge).

Although it’s rated to 80 mph, the i is ill at ease at highway speeds, where the ride can be choppy and the steering vague. With its tall profile and ambivalent steering, the i is prone to wandering in crosswinds. It’s most comfortable and efficient at surface-street speeds.

Because its battery pack nestles under the cargo compartment, the rear-wheel-drive i has a low center of gravity and in corners exhibits minimal body lean.

Using a household 120-volt outlet, fully charging a depleted battery requires about 22.5 hours. A Level 2, 240-volt home charging station — costing about $1,000, including installation — will do the job in 7 hours. An optional port allows 480-volt Level 3 charging from a public charging station and yields an 80-percent charge in about 30 minutes.

The i-MiEV’s 62-mile range is easily sufficient for nearly anyone’s daily needs. Anticipating longer trips, most drivers will pair theirs with a conventional vehicle. The future isn’t here yet, but its cars are. Depending on your needs, you might find the i a solid fit with your present.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.

2012 Mitsubishi i-MIEV SE

Vehicle base price: $29,925

Trim level base price: $31,125

As tested: $34,765 (less $7,500 tax rebate)

Options: Our SE tester included navigation with music server and Real-Time Traffic; FUSE handsfree link system with USB; steering wheel audio controls; quick-charge port; rearview camera; battery warming system; heated exterior mirrors.

EPA ratings: 112 MPGe



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